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by Dr David Gerstner

All Rights Reserved © David Gerstner and Deep South
Deepsouth v.6.n.3 (Spring 2000)


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A Cinema of Transgression?


Our discussion during my lecture, Spectacles of the Body, allowed us to consider the import of the cinema and its impact on epistemological and phenomenological discourse of the media and the body. Like television, cinema's emergence as a "technological wonder" and, for some, "revolution" has stirred a tremendous amount of critical discourse on the effects/affects of the movies. Laura Mulvey's key feminist tract, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" raised the ideological stakes on representation of, in particular, the female body. It also brought into focus the masculinist workings of that ideology. For many years, Mulvey's essay stood as the paradigmatic polemic for feminist studies in the cinema. The use of pyschoanalysis as the methodological framework for the piece has been (from the article's inception) critiqued for its limited understanding of gender. One of the more recent critiques of both Mulvey and Freudian/Lacanian psychoanalysis in cinema studies has been through a turn to Gilles Deleuzes' theoretical propositions and work on the cinema. Rather than conceptualize the unconscious of the spectator as a fixed subject, Deleuze recommends a more rhizomatic or flexible model for discussing cinema. Steven Shaviro critiques the work of Mulvey while opening a Deleuzian model onto a study of the cinema.


From here we took a look at Linda Kauffman's notion of "Visceral Cinema." She suggests that the experience of watching, say, a Cronenberg film satisfies a "fantasy" of such visceral experiences. Is it strictly "fantasy?" What are the transgressive possibilities of vulgar and "visceral" filmmaking and film watching? But is the visceral experience with the cinema ever enough to constitute a "transgressive" act of consumption. Garth Cartwright takes this issue head-on in his reading of Fascism, perversity, and consumption in Italian filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini's, Salo: 120 Days of Sodom (1975). Cartwright, like his filmmaker under discussion, is left with some very difficult, if not unanswerable, questions. This troubled aporia-the failure of dialectical intervention in the hands of capitalism's never-ending marketing of difference-appears to be the sine qua non of the modern age. Is it possible to be transgressive in the new millennium?


In my lectures, The Aporia of Globalization and The Dream of Media and Unified Globalization I broached the much bantered-about term, globalization. The glories of historical imperialization have-depending on how you look at it-successfully managed to open the world to "free-market" economies where all peoples can now experience true democracy because all people now share the same media of communication (and cultural consumption). Has the successful moment of the free-market enterprise, however, reached an aporia? Put another way, has this moment of globalization homogenized cultural difference-or, better, exploited this difference-for the market place? Is there room for cultural resistance in this age of euphoric global community? If so, what does that resistance look like?


Enrique Dussel's essay, "Beyond Eurocentrism," gave us an intriguing historical perspective on the question of cultural imperialism. Fredric Jameson writes on, with his usual flair for the paternalistic, the globalization of American culture vis-ą-vis American television. For Jameson, the philosophical stakes are high and Americans have a job to do (if not a moral obligation to fulfill).


During the lecture periods entitled, Nation, Race, and the Shaping of Media Identity and Gender and the Re-Writing of Media Practices, we considered some of the ways that activists and critics have resisted and engaged the media for political and subversive ends. We examined several different approaches to media resistance that emerge from the "left." bell hooks' writing on African-American representation in the media takes a very different position than, say, the AIDS activists of the late 1980s and early 1990s (Michelangelo Signorile and Douglas Crimp). Directly and indirectly Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" bridges these feminist and queer thinkings for radical politics in the age of "virtual" existences. We then played these positions off through the work from Latin-American writers, Jean Franco and Nelly Richard. The "post-modern" condition (terms which undoubtedly bespeak the modern ‘aporia') of media resistance also suggests-if not demands- a different type of political thinking.


Finally, we concluded the semester with two ideas that rethink the relationship between the body and media. The lecture, Performance and the Vicissitudes of Media Hegemony, considered how the institutions of media indeed operate with the "bottom line" in mind when the "advancement" of technology is introduced in the cultural sphere. The uses and abuses of the body in that cultural activity are undoubtedly an act of violence (both literally and figuratively). But there are possible reconfigurations of both the body and the media through the very media that initiates and perpetuates hegemonic violence (we can see this at work particularly through the work of the AIDS activists). How can, of all things, TV talk shows provide such a possibility? Through the work of Judith Butler and Joshua Gamson Heather Wilson's essay approaches the risky political venue activists enter (particularly queer activists in this context). Wilson questions the realm of the television talk-show as a site for radical politics. Wilson asks if there is a way to think about the available tools to activists through the very media that manage and control our bodies.


Kate Hayles' recent work, How We Became Post-Human gave us our artificial closure to the seminar. Hayles' work asks us to reconsider the often destructive language that has in many ways dissolved the concept of the body in the lived, mediated world. If we have come to any "conclusions" in this seminar I would hope were left with more questions than questions. I would think (I would hope) that no matter how "virtual" the world appears the pleasures and pains of the body never truly evaporates. This way we know the questions will always be asked.


This collection opens with an article by Dave Matthews and his reflections on the New Zealand film Once Were Warriors (1994). The excitement and enthusiasm of New Zealand's film industry and its debatable success on the world stage elicits some troubled yet hopeful possibilities for engaging with the matrices of discourses and ideologies that global media facilitate. I think Matthews says it best when he reminds us, "We live and hope..."


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